Oh, what a weird movie this is. “Land of the Lost” was a fairly strange TV show to begin with, and now the movie version has kept all of the built-in goofiness — the slow-moving reptilian Sleestaks, the race of monkey people, the dinosaurs — and added more. It’s a sci-fi/fantasy comedy full of special effects, yet it also has Will Ferrell and Danny McBride doing their patented semi-improvised idiot banter. It was directed by Brad Silberling, who also made “City of Angels” and “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.” It co-stars Anna Friel, from “Pushing Daisies,” who it turns out is British. It has a scene where the guys get high on some kind of primitive narcotic, then eat a giant crab that wanders past, complete with a giant lemon wedge. What the…?
Naturally, if you don’t usually find Ferrell or McBride funny, this will not change your mind. Purists who love the original TV series might be upset, too, although I would gently suggest that if you believe “Land of the Lost” deserves reverence then you ought to reexamine your priorities. For the rest of us, this is a wildly bizarre and frequently hilarious adventure that appears to be whacked-out by design, not out of sloppiness.
Ferrell plays Dr. Rick Marshall, a “quantum paleontologist” whose book, “My Other Car Is a Time Machine,” has made him a laughingstock in the scientific community. He believes that with a device he’s been working on, a tachyon amplifier, he can open a portal to time travel and parallel universes. Consequently, he’s now stuck doing tours at the La Brea Tar Pits and sublimating his feelings of inadequacy by going on eating binges. (One of his concoctions: a doughnut stuffed with M&M’s. “That way, when you’re done with the doughnut, you don’t have to eat any M&M’s.” So it’s a time-saving device, really.)
On the TV show, Rick Marshall was transported back in time with Will and Holly, who were his teenage children. This time, Holly (Anna Friel) is a grad student who was expelled from Cambridge for advocating Marshall’s crazy theories, and Will (Danny McBride) is a redneck souvenir-peddler at a cave-turned-tourist-attraction in the California desert. It is while paddling a raft through the cave that Marshall, Will, and Holly are caught in the greatest earthquake ever known and sent to the “land of the lost,” an amalgam of dinosaurs, early primates, strange reptiles, and other out-of-place artifacts.
They are befriended by Chaka (Jorma Taccone), a monkey-like fellow whose language Holly can somehow translate (and speak!). Chaka likes Holly but finds Marshall off-putting. (He wants Chaka, who can scarcely enunciate anything in English, to call him “Dr. Rick Marshall.”) Amusingly, Chaka and Holly are the voices of reason in this enterprise, while Marshall and Will are the voices of masculine arrogance and idiocy as the three humans try to find a way back to their own time. Marshall thinks his Ph.D. means any idea he has is brilliant; Will thinks fireworks and machismo are all you need; they’re both morons.
McBride partly owes his career to Ferrell, who helped champion his indie project “The Foot Fist Way” a couple years ago, but this is the first time they’ve actually appeared in a movie together. They’re opposite sides of the same coin. Ferrell excels at characters who believe they are smart but lack common sense and are prone to short-tempered petulance; McBride tends to play men who know they’re ignorant and are proud of it, often belligerently so. Ferrell’s version of George W. Bush was basically a combination of the two types, which probably explains why Ferrell and McBride get along so well, and why their comic interaction feels like they’ve been working together for years, not months. Friel, for her part, is a good foil and straightman, and Taccone, under all that Chaka makeup, almost steals the show.
The screenplay, by Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas, whose separate TV credits include “Entourage” and “Saturday Night Live,” gives everyone plenty of room to play around — maybe too much, in fact. The aforementioned drug-trip scene, while perfectly hilarious, is marred by the nagging feeling that it’s only there to kill time. The film is barely 90 minutes, and the actual story — which doesn’t even try to make sense — doesn’t come close to filling it. Then again, the sequence does typify why the movie works: Even when you’re sober, the movie makes you feel like you must be high.
B (1 hr., 33 min.; )